Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Top Five Things Parents Should Do When They Don't Know What to Do

This is the story of parenting lessons learned during a long, grueling, exhausting, and exasperating day.  On this day, we were up and out of the house early and on our way to the doctor for both kids to undergo allergy testing.  Not only did this mean they would both be receiving numerous needle pokes and having blood drawn, but it meant we would be in the car for 5+ hours for the trip there and back.  (Yes, we live in the middle of nowhere.  It might not even be on the map.)  A rough day for anyone, made doubly so by my children's special needs.  Our daughter has SPD, or sensory processing disorder. Our son has High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's Syndrome, as well as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and severe anxiety.  Anything that throws off our routine is the devil to us; needles and long car rides send us spiraling into oblivion. 

Sooo, I could tell you the whole story of how the day went, but that would take an inordinate amount of time which none of us have.  Instead, I will relay the highlights/lowlights of the day in the form of this countdown.  I call it "Top Five Things Parents Should Do When They Don't Know What to Do," otherwise known as "Things You Can Do to Stay Sane When Your Children Are Going Berserk."  Enjoy.

5. Deep Breathing.  If you don't know how or what this means, I advise you invest in a yoga DVD or check out a deep breathing technique video on YouTube. Real life example of the merits of this technique:  My SPD daughter despises car seat buckles.  She might as well buckle with a cactus wrapped in poison ivy.  (Yes, seriously.) Every time we got into the car yesterday (a total of three or four times), I was forced to buckle a shrieking, kicking, stiff as a board, spitting, purple in the face toddler into her car seat.  She broke my necklace.  She spilled our drink from lunch.  She threw sour candy all over my husband's immaculate car.  She spit snot in my mouth.  She screamed that she
could buckle herself, then when I let go of her, proceeded to sit maddeningly still and stare out the window without moving a muscle toward actually buckling (in total shut down mode).  When I touched her, she instantly turned on again and proceeded to flop fish-like to the floor of the car and throw cookie debris she found there.  Did I mention how immaculate my husband's car was?  Cue deep breathing.  It took some long deep breaths to calm myself enough to force her back into that seat.  No amount of reasoning was to be had.  I had tried every trick in my book (as well as several pages borrowed from other mothers and our therapists) to convince her.  In the end, it came down to my upper body strength and some long inhales through the nose.  We both lived and rode all 5+ hours safely buckled into our seats. 

4. Calm Yourself First.  You know the safety steps on a plane?  If you've ever flown with a small child, the flight attendants come by your seat to specifically tell you to put your oxygen mask on BEFORE you put one on your child.  It goes against parental nature, but the logic is, you cannot help your child if you die from lack of oxygen in the attempt.  Same reasoning applies here.  Let's face it, if you're freaking out, chances are, so will your kid.  The logic that follows is this:  Calm yourself before you attempt to calm your child.  No amount of 'calming' words or gestures given by an adult on the edge of a breakdown/meltdown/freakout are going to help a child on the edge of the same.  Learn by this example of what NOT to do:  After the initial round of needle pokes, the doctor decided my son (the hypersensitive sensory avoiding one) would need additional inter-dermal allergy testing.  That meant, you guessed it, more needles and bigger needles.  When the nurse came in with a tray loaded with eight large syringes, I literally gasped out loud.  BAD idea. I tried to recover by assuring my son it would hurt but not TOO bad.  Too late.  He'd heard that gasp loud and clear and nothing I could say or do was going to make him forget it. Ever heard the term "autistic meltdown?"  Insert one here.  He proceeded to flip.  I mean truly flip.  It took two of us to hold him down so they could finish.  To top that off, they had to re-test one more time for an allergen he was especially allergic to.  I was out of the room with my daughter for this one.  My son didn't flinch this time.  He calmly sat in his aunt's lap and let the nurse insert the needle under his skin without ever making a noise. (Did I mention I brought an entourage to this appointment to help if needed? I did.)  I won't go so far as to say the first freak out would have been avoided had I not gasped aloud, it probably would have at least been curbed.  Moral of the story:  Keep Calm and Parent On.  Literally.

3. Take Cues from Your Kids.  There are times when the best choice is to just follow the lead set by your child.  Example:  Our SPD daughter is a sensory seeker, with marked under-responsiveness to pain (among many other avoiding/seeking/modulation/regulation issues).  When having to have blood drawn, the nurse asked me to hold her in my lap to keep her still.  My daughter refused.  Instead, she sat very still in the chair (alone) while I helped hold her arm straight with one hand.  She looked on with mild interest while the nurse took an IV needle and vial to take blood out of her tiny arm.  The nurse was in shock that she sat so still and quiet.  Had I forced her to get into my lap, I absolutely guarantee that a meltdown would have ensued.  My daughter was nervous, not of the needle, but of the unknown.  I had explained what would happen the best I could, but it was an abstract thing for a very concrete brain to wrap around.  In her short three years, she has developed incredible coping skills.  I used to think it was withdrawal, but it isn't really.  Watching her in these moments is like watching an out of body experience.  She's there, but she's also somewhere else.  Had I tried to wrestle her into my lap, the full-body contact would have made it impossible for her to center herself and cope with the experience.  So I let my tiny little girl sit alone in a hard plastic chair with a great big needle in her arm.  And it worked.  No tears.  No meltdown.  No concern on her part at all.  All I had to was follow her lead.    

2. Surround Yourself with Support.  I brought my mom and sister with me yesterday to the appointment.  Not just for the kids' sake, but for my own.  I needed them there to lend some support and dispel everyone's nerves, as well as for the help in holding them down!  We were able to have a nice lunch and enjoy at least part of the day because of their company.  When we finally made it home in the evening, my husband was able to help get the kids bathed and settled down for the night, as well as helping to unpack the lunch, snacks, and other items that had accumulated in his car (his poor, formerly immaculate car) throughout the day.  After dinner, I had a chat with someone whom I consider my closest friend.  We don't get together nearly as much as we'd like, but this girl is THERE for me.  We have only a couple of "friendship" rules that we both abide by.  The first:  no judgment; only support.  The second: silliness.  Always silliness.  So when I messaged her with a story about accidental  traveling sensory bins and the need for extra wine, she listened.  Not only did she listen and commiserate; she laughed.  Which brings me to my next rule.

1.  LAUGH.  Laugh hard.  Laugh loudly.  Laugh often.  I have a feeling that many people I know think I might not take this whole parenting gig as seriously as I should.  There is no other heaviness or seriousness to compare with the thought of being in charge of another human being.  Not only in a physical capacity, but also being co-head supervisor of their cognitive, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  It is the most terrifying responsibility you will ever imagine.  So terrifying and so serious, that in fact, if we were to look at the gravity of the job for very long, parents everywhere would crawl into holes, caves, and ravines hidden from the world, never be seen again.  Serious?  Absolutely.  Hilarious?  Even more so.  Real life examples:  My son was having a huge, major panic attack about those needles.  He was melting down and continued to do so even after they were finished and out of the room until my mom had the presence of mind to crack a joke about the pet store having dog underwear.  He laughed, and just like that, the world righted itself and the panic was gone.  The meltdown faded and laughter took its place.  My beautiful soul of a daughter decided in the car on the way home that her day had, in fact, been too much to handle and she needed a major sensory outlet.  NOW.  Her solution was to take the plastic storage container that had their snack of strawberries in it.  She quietly and surreptitiously snuck the container into her lap, pulled the lid off, and proceeded to squish every single strawberry into pulp.  By the time I glanced in the rear view mirror, there was nothing to be seen but pink paste dripping from my daughter's clenched hands.  I reached for the wet wipes, while realizing I had none.  (I was in my husband's car, remember?  The immaculate one?) Oh. Crap. I dug in my bag with one hand while navigating traffic with another (no time to pullover, that pink pulp about to start to flying) and extra pair of my son's underwear.  At this point, my sensory-seeking baby girl was about to get uber-upset because while she loves the initial sensation of mess-making, she also LOATHES being dirty.  Before the screams started in full-force, I executed a one-handed, behind-the-back swipe of her arms and hands, while simultaneously whisking the "mess" in the container away unnoticed and substituting an orally regulating bag of crunchy chips.  Go ahead:  Laugh.  It was freaking hilarious.  It was ridiculous.  It was outrageous.  It was totally necessary.  But if I hadn't started giggling when I saw that strawberry covered fist in the air, I would have lost my mind.  The day was pressing down hard and my patience and mental state were flagging.  That giggle saved our lives.  Because when they heard me, the kids started to giggle too.  And then, well... we drove on into the sunset.  
 What else?

 Author's Note:  There is a little strawberry on my husband's back car seat (did I mention the upholstery was cream colored?).  But there's a little strawberry on everyone's fabric of life.  Sometimes, we can get it out with stain remover. Other times, it sticks - regardless of the amount of scrubbing applied.  No one ever plans on it getting there.  But, most of the time, the story of the stain is worth more than the fabric itself.